Six Unitarian Universalist ministers and laypeople were among the thirty-two people arrested during an interfaith Love Knows No Borders public witness event in San Diego, California, on Monday, December 10.
The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, president and CEO of the UU Service Committee, led a group of about thirty-five UUs who joined more than 400 protesters in the interfaith action organized by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).
“As UUs, we affirm the inherit worth and dignity of every person and we respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part,” Frederick-Gray said. “Because of that we must show up as a moral voice.”
The group marched the mile and a half from San Diego’s Border Field State Park along the beach to the border wall with Mexico that extends into the Pacific Ocean, carrying above their heads a banner that read, “Love Knows No Borders.”
The Love Knows No Borders action took place on Human Rights Day, the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and was the first of several events planned over the following week to culminate in International Migrants Day on December 18.
Morn said, “For people of faith and conscience, it is powerful to gather together and lift up our values.”
The group came with demands, which they presented to Border Patrol officers once they arrived at the wall:
- A call for the United States to respect the human right to migrate;
- An end to the militarization of border communities; and
- An end to the detention and deportation of immigrants.
After an interfaith worship service Sunday night, the 400-plus participants traveled by bus to the state park before beginning the walk along the beach to the wall.
Once the group arrived at the beach, religious leaders read the names of those who had been killed by Border Patrol officers.
“It was a somber moment,” said the Rev. Ranwa Hammamy, incoming executive director of the Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry of California. “We were there to bear witness to all that violence that had been caused.”
The Rev. Dr. Beth Johnson, minister at Palomar UU Fellowship in Vista, California, and state coordinator for the Poor People’s Campaign, said that, while the path the group took along the beach led them through muddy and sometimes flooded terrain, “the journey was short compared to that of our migrant siblings.”
“They have traversed much more harrowing terrain,” Johnson said.
Once at the border, lined up in front of the wall that reaches down to the beach and the recently laid strings of concertina wire in front of it, the demonstrators faced a cordon of twenty-five fully armed Border Patrol officers (backed up by twenty-five more on the mesa above the beach).
Those who were willing to risk being arrested knelt while praying and singing, just feet from the concertina wire.
According to Hammamy, who was arrested, those who knelt made sure not to make physical contact with the officers.
Johnson said Border Patrol officers warned, “We don’t want any violence.”
Nevertheless, Hammamy said, the officers began telling the kneeling protesters to move back and started pushing them. When they refused to move, Border Patrol initiated the arrests.
Over the next hour, thirty-two people were arrested, thirty-one charged with trespassing.
Hammamy said those arrested were placed in Border Patrol vans and eventually driven back to the area where their buses awaited them.
The thirty-second person arrested, Matthew Leber, a member of the AFSC organizing committee, was charged with assaulting an officer and taken into custody. The charge was dropped the following day and Leber was released.
Katia Hansen, president and CEO of UURISE (Unitarian Universalist Refugee and Immigrant Services and Education), said it was vital that Unitarian Universalists join other faith communities in the witness action.
“There is such a distorted narrative toward immigration today,” Hansen said. “To change that narrative we have to lift up the voices that people trust. Having people of faith lift that up is incredibly important.”
The Love Knows No Borders action occurred two weeks after an incident just a few miles away during which Border Patrol officers fired tear gas across the border when, they claimed, migrants in Tijuana began throwing rocks at them.
As many as 6,000 immigrants who traveled recently in a highly publicized “caravan” from Central America to the border are living in shelters and tent cities in Tijuana, hoping to seek asylum in the United States.
“What the United States government is trying to do is a violation of human rights and moral standards,” Frederick-Gray said. “It was critical for us to show up and say, ‘Enough!’ We have to learn to welcome people.”